The best strategies for getting a free airline ticket with the help of your airline rewards or frequent flier credit card boil down to seeking out all the incentives that have been created for specific airlines and their partners, including those provided by your airline credit card issuer.
Airline-specific rewards credit cards tend to offer special incentives in conjunction with their hotel and rental car partners, allowing you to earn significantly more miles if you put those purchases on your credit card. Packaged vacation deals are another area where cardholders can rack up significant miles and get past that average 25,000 mile threshold to earn a free ticket. The also tend to charge an annual fee.
Generic airline and frequent flier credit cards offer the advantage of being able to use the miles accumulated on any airline. When using a generic airline card, the bank actually takes the cash value of your miles (approximately 1 cent to 2 cents per mile) and purchases a discount ticket on any airline you choose.
Once you reach a mileage redemption threshold (say 20,000 miles) and wish to book a flight, the bank will convert your earnings into cash value and buy the ticket through a travel booking agency. The availability of discounted fares on the dates you wish to travel may be limited, but at least you can choose any airline.
The quickest route to free travel is to fly as often as possible and charge the tickets on your airline rewards credit card, since this can potentially generate tens of thousands of miles in a year. Business travelers are able to leverage this activity at no personal cost and tend to be the recipients of the most free travel awards (assuming they want to get back on an airplane after all that work-related travel).
Leisure travelers can also take advantage of everyday spending opportunities such as charging groceries, gasoline and setting up automatic recurring payments on their card to add up their miles.